Saturday, May 29, 2010

Thoughts and reflections of Memorial Day 2010

During my formative years, those prided influential years immediately following a victorious World War II, it seemed the essentiality of nationalism, patriotism, and militarism gradually, subtly, and subliminally was encultured in every American. That enculturation instilled in me that I should support “my country right or wrong,” where nationalism and patriotism meant blind devotion to the United States of America, and a notion that if we didn’t have a military we wouldn’t have a country! It was a time when every Memorial Day was a major celebration; a time of unquestionable Christian devotion; a time when every young man was expected to serve in the Armed Forces; a time when every school day began with a prayer and a pledge of allegiance to the flag; a time when I thought my government would never be deceitful and to be a politician was an honorable profession.

It was also a time when Memorial Day, under the leadership of Everett Reed, meant a long parade to every cemetery where the flag was placed at the gravesite of every veteran on that day, not beforehand, and where at every cemetery echo taps were played. It was a day, as today, of war hero idolatry enhanced by legends and tales of war.

Memorial Day is a day we set-aside to honor those who gave their all for America; conversely, it is also a day when we glorify war, and a day we celebrate our nationalism, patriotism, and militarism via exploitation of our war heroes.

We should not forget on Memorial Day that many others did not give their lives, but they did give all of their futures: Men and Women wounded, disfigured/disabled mentally/physically, for the rest of their lives, some with very horrifyingly invisible wounds.

We should also not forget that it was a day three years ago, on May 19, 2007, when one of Pembroke’s sons, Matthew Bean, gave all he had to give during a door-to-door search for three captured U.S. soldiers in the Sunni Triangle region of Iraq, nor should we forget Brian McPhillips, who grew up in Pembroke and gave his all during a firefight in central Iraq on April 4, 2003.

Matthew and Brian gave all they had with nobility of purpose, as they understood it to be, and sacrificed their lives for it. Mathew Bean and Brian McPhillips are the quintessence of the Americans we honor on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day should also be a reminder for every American to speak out against a government and others who would hoodwink Americans, particularly our young people, into thinking that a Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan serves some nobility of purpose, as when I was a young man and unfortunately continues to this day, never again.

Iraq is not worth the life of Matthew Bean or Brian McPhillips. We should not just perceive Matthew or Brian as young men who so happened to have lost their lives -- after all lives are lost in war -- without profoundly understanding what their families and we have lost in our community and country as a result of their deaths. Think of the lost contribution that Matthew, Brian, other fallen veterans, and those who have suffered unrecoverable wounds, could have made to make this a better country; whatever the outcome in Iraq or Afghanistan it will not make us a better country. It is not what has been, but what could have been if only America had chosen a different course of action of which Matthew’s grave and Brian’s memorial are symbolic reminders, that is the reality of Memorial Day.

So, let’s pray that future Memorial Days will be in honoring fallen Americans from our very distant past, but not of those in our time.

A “Forked-Tongue-In-Chief at West Point” ?

President Obama’s West Point commencement speech was not a speech I would expect a Nobel Peace Prize recipient to make. It was a speech Martin Luther King Jr. would not make, and it certainly does not compete with John F. Kennedy’s American University commencement speech of June 10, 1963.

It’s tricky for the President as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces as well as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize to reconcile his responsibilities to both within the realities of today’s world -- particularly to one thousand and two cadet warriors at heart.

However, it was not a “Forked-Tongue” speech, either, as Kevin McCullough in his article, “Forked-Tongue-In-Chief at West Point,” called it.

McCullough wrote, “President Fork-Tongue spoke of his intent to shape a new ‘international order’ as it pertained to a strategy to keep America secure. Implying in his speech that America should not claim the mantle, nor the right of self-protection or self-responsibility.” He continued by quoting the President, “He [Obama] also referred to America's minimal role in ‘promoting democratic values around the world.’" However, I could not find that exact quoted phrase in the President’s speech.

What the President did say, “And so a fundamental part of our strategy for our security has to be America's support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding. And we will promote these values [‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’] above all by living them -- through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it's hard; even when we're being attacked; even when we're in the midst of war.”

President Obama did say that America seeks an “international order,” but he did not imply America should not claim the mantle, nor the right of self-protection or self-responsibility. This conjecture is solely that of McCullough.

McCullough wrote, “…scrutiny at Obama's minimalist involvement in world affairs demonstrates the exact opposite [countering violent extremism and insurgency] because “Instead of countering violent terrorists, he's [Obama] permitted them to commit attacks against U.S. citizens on American soil six times since his inauguration.”

He is correct. There have been six terrorist attacks in our country on President Obama’s watch. What he does not say is that there were twenty-five attacks during President Bush’s watch, permitting (a word McCullough chose to use), most serious of them all, the horrific attacks of 9/11.

McCullough said that Obama has made overtures that he will not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; that Obama mocked those who did not hold global warming to be truth; that instead of sustaining global growth, his economic policies have actually worsened the outlook for the American markets, and the global economy; that instead of helping other nations become self sufficient, he has taken punitive action against allies like Israel, and played footsies with nations like North Korea.

President Obama has never said that he would not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, nor did he ever mock those who did not believe in global warming.

As far as President Obama’s economic policies are concerned, it’s a matter of speculation, since we just simply do not know what would have happened if he did something else or nothing at all.

For McCullough to criticize Obama on taken a firmer stance with Israel than others have historically done and because he is willing to chance negotiation and diplomacy over belligerency or war with North Korea, to me, is simply unacceptable. It is what I would expect of a President who is trying to achieve peaceful outcomes.

To Obama’s statement, "America has not succeeded by stepping outside the currents of international cooperation... but by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice," McCullough said the President was either “ignorant or purposefully misrepresentative.” He said, “To be clear, America has more often than not primarily succeeded by stepping outside the currents of international cooperation, leading the charge to form new coalitions, and when necessary going it alone out of a resolve to do so because of the moral demands placed upon us as the greatest nation on this planet.”

What makes us McCullough’s “greatest nation on this planet” is simply our firepower, our military machine. With few exceptions, we have “not succeeded by stepping outside the currents of international cooperation.” We did lead the charge in forming coalitions in some instances, but that is just simply a matter of protocol.

McCullough says, “But behind the mask of attempting to sound moderate, reasonable, clean and articulate (Biden's favorite qualities) lies a shadow of his meaning that may sound like something on the surface and to most ears who hear, but mean something completely different to the President himself.”

“He is misguided at best, or a deceptive traitor at worst...”

A right-wing reader made a comment on one of my posts, which said, “When the left cannot win an argument with fact, they rely on supposition and innuendo.”

Conversely, McCullough’s (obviously a right-winger) conjecture is simply that: supposition and innuendo.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It’s the responsibility of columnist to inform, not entertain

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News tabloid-styled denunciation, apparent in Michelle Malkin’s recent article,” The U.S. Department of Blame America First,” of human rights activist as “zealots”; of Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner as “badmouthing America,” and that the “former head agitator [Posner] at the transnationalist outfit Human Rights First trashed our country's human rights record to Chinese government officials”; of Tom Goldstein and George Soros over their Ground Zero Memorial plan proposal; of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, and State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, as “willful ignoramuses betraying America's interests”; of State Department's legal adviser, Harold Koh, as “one who believes that America has violated international law and that U.S. Supreme Court rulings should lean toward transnationalist jurisprudence”; of State Department transition team leader Samantha Power, as “one who pooh-poohs the threat of nuclear Iran” and praises Obama's commitment to negotiation and diplomacy over belligerence and war; of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as “busy coddling” Mexico who has been critical of Arizona's law, does not help, in the manner she writes, to explain earnestly and in good faith her opposition to these issues.

First, to admit that the United States is having issues with Arizona’s Immigration Law, Bill 1070, an issue known internationally, regardless of any dialogue of Bill 1070 between the United States and China in a forum on human rights, is not “badmouthing America.”

Furthermore, Human Rights First is a committee of lawyers who focus on the “principle that core human rights protections apply universally, and thus extend to everyone by virtue of their humanity.” It seems to me that the morality of this principle is inarguable.

Her denunciation of Tom Goldstein and George Soros because their plan for the Ground Zero Memorial was rejected is ridiculous. Plan proposals for the World Trade Center Memorial have been met with much criticism from many people, ranging from the design itself to the name change, from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Donald Trump.

The criticism of Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, and State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley as “willful ignoramuses betraying America's interests,” because they have denounced Arizona’s Bill 1070 as unconstitutionally discriminatory, is certainly disingenuous.

To censure Harold Koh, as one who believes that America has violated international law, and that U.S. Supreme Court rulings should lean toward transnationalist jurisprudence reveals a certain level of ignorance: America has violated international law; and, “transnationalism is a social movement grown out of the heightened interconnectivity between people and the loosening of boundaries between countries …a new way of thinking about relationships between cultures.” It would be irresponsible for the Supreme Court not to be highly considerate of transnationalism in their decisions.

Samantha Power is “best known for her efforts to increase public awareness of genocide and human rights abuses, particularly in the Darfur conflict. [She] has become a leading voice calling for armed intervention into humanitarian crisis situations.” She has been “hostile towards the state of Israel [over their belligerence and treatment of Palestinians]. In an interview with Haaretz [Israel's oldest daily newspaper] … [she] insisted that she takes threats to Israel's security (such as the potential nuclearization of Iran) very seriously.”

The accusation that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as” busy coddling” Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico, who has been critical of Arizona's immigration law, is true. But how would you expect the Secretary of State to treat our neighbor to the south: with belligerence or friendship? The border problems are the result of failed leadership of the United States and Mexico. The Mexican gun and drug problem is a result of America’s failure effectively to take action -- guns go south, drugs head north.

It has been said that Rupert Murdoch's view was that” he was an entertainer, not an informer, and that he merely sold entertainment to his readers, most of whom were lower-class workers and middle-class women.” It seems Michelle Malkin, a frequent commentator for Fox News, writes in the same vein, to entertain rather than inform.

Monday, May 17, 2010

An evolutionary change in the role of the U.S military

From 1775–1783 thirteen British colonies fought the American War of Independence and gained their liberty form Great Britain. Great Britain at the time was the greatest military, economic, and imperial power in the world. Its soldiers were highly trained, disciplined, and experienced.

The colonists were not trained, did not have the leadership or manpower, nor did they have the discipline required for linear warfare. They instead utilized hit and run, ambush, and sniper tactics learned fighting in the wilderness. The British never adjusted to the asymmetric warfare of the colonists.

Consequently, the colonists, who initially lacked an army and navy, whose militiamen were lightly armed, nevertheless, were triumphant.

Regardless, Great Britain’s greatest error was not attending to nation building. If they had put as much effort into winning hearts and minds, meeting the needs of the colonists and partnering with them, instead of killing, domination and subordination, America would most likely be a dominion of the British today.

Like eighteenth-century Great Britain, America today is the greatest military, economic, and imperial power in the world. Because of this, there has been an enculturation that has evolved into an American hubris that enhances that same warrior and imperialist mindset.

Americans are warriors at heart. They too believe that killing, domination, and subordination are what win conflicts. They are under the mistaken belief that belligerence is the way to keep others at bay, and that military firepower is the only strategy that works. To win means to obliterate and conquer.

In Iraq and in Afghanistan, “Shock and Awe” was our strategy. The war propagandist new that that would garner the American imagination.

Like the British, we never reacted to the tactics of our foes in either country with effective countermeasures. It was only when General Petraeus took command of the Multi-National Force in Iraq and General McChrystal took command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan that we adopted a new strategy to countermeasure the asymmetric warfare of the enemy.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, was “on point” when he told the House Armed Services Committee in 2008, “We can’t kill our way to victory.”

Admiral Mullen has also said, “The Muslim community is a subtle world we don’t fully – and don’t always – attempt to understand. Only through a shared appreciation of the people’s culture, needs, and hopes for the future can we hope ourselves to supplant the extremist narrative. We cannot capture hearts and minds. We must engage them; we must listen to them, one heart and one mind at a time.”

In “Stones into Schools,” Greg Mortenson writes of an email he received from Lieutenant Colonel Chris Kolenda that in part stated, “I am convinced that the long-term solution to terrorism in general and Afghanistan specifically is education. The conflict here will not be won with bombs but with tolerance, and prosperity. The thirst for education here is palpable. People are tired of war after 30 years and want a better future. Education will make the difference whether the next generation grows up to be educated patriots or illiterate fighters. The stakes could not be higher.”

In America, nation building has had a negative connotation. However, it is now a central part of U.S. strategy. In Afghanistan, nation building must take place with an emphasis on a coalition of tribal communities and less on central governance.

No matter where one looks, there is every indication that the role of the U.S military is changing in an evolution that George Will describes as “The ‘Civilization’ Of the U.S. Military.”

For America to fail in Afghanistan, as the British failed in Colonial America against a force significantly lacking in America’s armaments and manpower, would be a humiliating national and international setback. Regrettably, Americans will not persevere in what they perceive as not a winning strategy, which means the utilization of American firepower; but viewed as a wishy-washy strategy, which may be their view of nation building.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Arizona Bill 1070, a “probable cause” based on race and ethnicity

I remember an argument that the late David Brudnoy, a well-known and respected WBZ Boston talk radio host, made in support of profiling back in 2002. The issue then was terrorism. He analogized profiling with the story of a midget who robbed a local gas station. The police radio dispatch confirmed the perpetrator to be a midget. The police observed a midget a few miles away and arrested him for the crime. Brudnoy’s conclusion, if the police had not used profiling they would not have made the arrest.

The problem with Brudnoy’s analogy is that the profiling was in association of a midget with a particular crime. The police were not assuming that all midgets are armed robbers and, therefore, they are suspects in armed robberies, giving them authority and a responsibility to stop, search, and interrogate midgets.

The Arizona Law, Bill 1070, mandates that illegal immigration, which heretofore has been adjudicated under civil law, now will be adjudicated under criminal law. And, so, by making undocumented immigration a criminal offense, it requires law enforcement to take action when there is “probable cause” that someone has committed a crime. Under criminal law, “probable cause” is the standard by which a police officer with reasonable suspicion has the authority to conduct a personal or property search, and to make an arrest.

The Bill 1070 problem is that it’s not about Greeks, Italians, Poles, or New Zealanders -- it’s about Hispanics! It’s not about illegal immigration, per se, it’s about brown skinned, dark haired, Spanish-speaking people who easily can be identified (profiled) and thereby giving a police officer sufficient “probable cause” to detain, search, interrogate, and make an arrest.

Elena Letona, the associate director of the Massachusetts’s chapter of the National Alliance of Latin American & Caribbean Communities, put it succinctly when she told a noisy crowd of demonstrators on Boston Common: “It means not looking white. It means not sounding white. It means those who do not conform to a certain idea of what Americans should look like.’’

Arizona’s problem with illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug smuggling is understandably acute. However, Arizona does not need to change the law when there are laws in place for the criminal behavior of human trafficking and drug smuggling. Evidently, what Arizona does not understand is that there are civil liberty laws that are in place and a U.S. Constitution that defends those liberties.

Traveling as a road musician in the Deep South of the early 60’s, it was common to see black Americans detained along-side any road or highway, some even spread-eagle with police officers standing over them. It was so common that it prompted the question to my fellow musicians who traveled these states for a long time -- why? The answer, they were being harassed and detained because of their race, not because they committed a crime.

At the time, not many northerners condemned the incivility and that outrageous police behavior in the south, and many even supported it.

The Boston Globe reported, “The Boston City Council approved a resolution Wednesday that urges the city to curtail economic ties with Arizona by pulling investments, ending city contracts and halting purchasing agreements to protest the state's recently passed immigration law.”

I support that resolution. I only wish Massachusetts and other states would follow suit. My fear is that, like my experience in the Deep South, Arizona will be harassing and detaining Hispanics along her streets, roads, and highways, with police officers standing over them, without any “probable cause” other than their race and ethnicity that may be adopted by other states, as well.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cape Wind, a misguided idea

Ken Burns’s “The National Parks: America's Best Idea is the story of an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone.”

The documentary film details “As America expanded westward, pioneers would ‘discover’ landscapes [‘from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska’] of such breathtaking and unusual beauty that written descriptions of the lands were sometimes assumed by people in the East to be works of fiction. Eventually, there emerged a belief that these special places should be kept untarnished by development and commerce so that they could be experienced by all people.”

Evidently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the person responsible for our National Park System, does not share that belief. He, and the Obama Administration, made the decision to proceed with Cape Wind Associate’s plan for the nation's first offshore wind farm to be located on the Horseshoe Shoal region in Nantucket Sound.

The green light was given to a private developer, Cape Wind Associates, the innovation of CEO Jim Gordon, who proposed the Cape Wind Project. Since 2001, Cape Wind Associates has spent more than $45 million. Jim Gordon has refused to disclose potential earnings. Nevertheless, Cape Wind Associates stand to gain hundreds of millions in tax credits, government subsidies, and price guarantees, making developers rich at the expense of electric ratepayers who must pay for these costs.

The reality is that Cape Wind Associates and Jim Gordon’s primary interest is not in green energy or protecting the shoal’s ecology, but in profiteering from the project.

Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown criticized Salazar's decision, saying it was "misguided.” He said, further, "With unemployment hovering near ten percent in Massachusetts, the Cape Wind project will jeopardize industries that are vital to the Cape's economy, such as tourism and fishing, and will also impact aviation safety and the rights of the Native American tribes in the area. I am also skeptical about the cost-savings and job number predictions [Salazar predicts 1,000] we have heard from proponents of the project,"

This whole project from the beginning was misguided in the belief that eliminating atmospheric greenhouse gases is the singularly most important issue, without an awareness that the sea and its very delicate ecology is equally important.

Despite what any environmental impact study might conclude, the construction of a wind farm covering 24 square miles with 130 turbines, 440 feet tall, with its conduit embedded six feet under the sea floor to facilitate electricity to the mainland will distinctly -- for some species it may displace -- destroy a very delicate ecosystem and its abiotic constituents; it can take thousands of years for ecological processes to mature, and yet hastily destroyed with projects like Cape Wind. Furthermore, any claim that Cape Wind will ensure that natural sites could be restored if the wind farms were ever shut down would be preposterous.

Beyond the ecology, it is easy for folks like Secretary Salazar, who may have never experienced simple things like fishing, boating, or who may have never seen the breathtaking and unusual beauty of Nantucket Sound or its beaches, to perceive, as Ken Burns has expressed, that written descriptions are sometimes assumed to be works of fiction.

So, it is as naturalist Paul Brook wrote in “The Art of Seeing Nature: How much we see depends on what we bring to the encounter,” and in “The Pursuit of Wilderness: We shall never understand the natural environment until we see it as a living organism.”